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Superman

National Portrait Gallery

Superman Thermos

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
This plastic thermos bottle was manufactured by Aladdin Industries in 1978 and has a red plastic, screw-on cup lid and a beige plastic, screw-on stopper with a brown and white plastic pouring spout. The bottle features colorful action scenes from the movie version of Superman all exterior surfaces. Matches Superman lunch box object #2001.3087.26.01.

Superman #110, “The Defeat of Superman”

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Superman issue no. 110 was published by DC Comics in January of 1957. The cover art by Al Plastino features Superman battling a giant ant. The 36 page issue sold for 10 cents and featured the stories, “The Secret of the Superman Trophy,” The Mystery Superman!” and “The Defeat of Superman.” Superman first appeared in the June 1938 Action Comics No. 1, before the Superman title launched in May of 1939 and continued until 1986 when it was renamed Adventures of Superman.

Superman #180, “The Girl Who Was Mightier Than Superman”

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Superman No. 180 was published by DC Comics in October of 1965. The cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein depicts Superman being swung around by his arm by a woman named Orella. The 36 page issue sold for 12 cents and contained two stories written by Leo Dorfman, “Clark Kent’s Great Superman Hunt,” and the cover story—“The Girl Who Was Mightier Than Superman!” Superman first appeared in the June 1938 Action Comics No. 1, before the Superman title launched in May of 1939 and continued until 1986 when it was renamed Adventures of Superman.

Superman Turns 73

Smithsonian Magazine

Superman Lunch Box

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
This tin lunch box was manufactured by Aladdin Industries in 1978. Released on the heels of the 1978 Superman movie, this lunch box shows the Daily Planets newsroom on the back, featuring images of Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, and Jimmy Olsen. The other side shows an image of Superman flying high above Metropolis in all his costumed glory.

Superman, “The Girl Cops of Metropolis”

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Superman issue no. 108 was published by DC Comics in September of 1956. The cover art by Al Plastino depicts Clark Kent trapped in a jail cell with three female cops wanting to test their suspicions that Clark Kent is Superman. The 36 page issue sold for 10 cents and featured the stories “The Brain from the Future,” “Perry White, Jr., Demon Reporter,” and the title story “The Girl Cops of Metropolis!” Superman first appeared in the June 1938 Action Comics No. 1, before the Superman title launched in May of 1939 and continued until 1986 when it was renamed Adventures of Superman.

Superman #184 “Demon Under the Red Sun”

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Superman issue number 184 was published by DC Comics in February of 1966. The cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein depicts Superman tied to a pole surrounded by the people of Zhongar holding Death-Glow talismans. Fearing he is a demon, and sapped by his powers due to the red sun, Superman must prove himself to the people of the alien planet. The 36 page issue sold for 12 cents and contained two stories, “The Demon Under the Red Sun” and part two of “The Test of the Talisman.” Superman first appeared in the June 1938 Action Comics No. 1, before the Superman title launched in May of 1939 and continued until 1986 when it was renamed Adventures of Superman.

39c Superman single

National Postal Museum
unused

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #106 “I Am Curious (Black)”

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane number 106 was published by DC Comics in November of 1970. The cover features art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson that depicts the white Lois Lane stepping into Superman’s Plastimold machine and stepping out as a black woman. The 36 page issue sold for 15 cents and features the Lois Lane story “I am Curious (Black)!” and the Rose and Thorn story “Where Do You Plant a Thorn?” The issue explored race relations in Metropolis as Lois transform into a black woman to write a story about “Little Africa.” Her new skin color changes society’s perception of her, and she realizes the struggle of everyday life as a minority.

Superman vs. the Arctic Giant

Smithsonian Magazine

Duncan Magic Motion Superman Yo-Yo

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
This plastic yo-yo was manufactured by the Duncan Toys Company in the 1980s. It is plastic with clear sides. Under one side there is a "magic motion" holographic portrait of DC Comics character Clark Kent wearing glasses, which when tilted, turns into an image of his alter-ego Superman. The yo-yo's other side features a red and yellow Superman “S" on a blue background.

39c Cover of Superman single

National Postal Museum
unused

Cleveland, the True Birthplace of Superman

Smithsonian Magazine

With the departure of basketball star LeBron James earlier this summer, Cleveland has lost a superman. James was going to save the city as its native son, rescuing Cleveland from its economic woes. His image literally loomed over the city’s residents, on a multistory billboard that dominated downtown. Now, though, with James leaving the Cavaliers for Miami, Cleveland can focus on its first Superman—the one born on Krypton. In the past, the city has not given Clark Kent and his alter ego much attention, even though he was invented by two boys on Cleveland’s East Side. But that is changing, as the city is slowly beginning to recognize its role in creating the superhero who stood for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

In 1933, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dreamed up the comic strip hero with superpowers. Both boys were from immigrant Jewish families and lived down the street from each other in Glenville, then a booming, overwhelmingly Jewish, middle-class neighborhood, with kosher markets selling Yiddish newspapers on nearly every street corner. At the time, Cleveland was the fifth most populous American city, and a forward-thinking one at that, being the first to install public electricity and trolleys.

Siegel’s father first arrived in Cleveland as a sign painter, but he soon left that profession to open a haberdashery in a less prosperous part of town, only to die from a heart attack when robbers entered his store. According to Gerard Jones’ indispensible book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, the Siegel family was told that he had been shot in the chest. (Whether this incident was the inspiration for a bullet-proof superhero is unknown but seems plausible.)

Shuster’s family was not as wealthy as Siegel’s, so Joe, an obsessive artist, often sketched on tissue and other scrap paper. Both teenagers were awkward around girls, timid and obsessed with the pulp magazines of the day. According to Jones, Shuster would visit newsstands and pore over the magazines, particularly Amazing Stories, and then recreate them at home.

Judi Feniger, executive director of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, notes that Siegel and Shuster both exemplify the Cleveland immigrant story, as children of parents who may not have spoken English. They had a “working-class ethic that is particularly Cleveland, and particularly Glenville,” she says. In 2008, the museum hosted the exhibit “Zap! Bow! Bam!” about the creation by Jewish immigrants of Superman and other comic book heroes.

Siegel and Shuster met in high school; Siegel was the ambitious one. After the two came up with the idea of a comic book hero, he took control of the venture and concocted a romantic origin story for Superman. One sleepless summer night, as retold by Jones in his book, Siegel was struck by an inspiration: “I hop out of bed and write this down, and then I go back and think some more for about two hours and get up again and write that down. This goes on all night at two-hour intervals. [The next morning] “I dashed over to Joe’s place and showed it to him…. We just sat down and I worked straight through. I think I had brought in some sandwiches to eat, and we worked all day long.” By that night, the first weeks of comic strips were completed.

Whether or not this “Eureka!” tale is true (In Men of Tomorrow the author questions its accuracy), Siegel and Shuster did write the first Superman strips from their houses, and continued to do so even after they graduated from high school and became famous. (Siegel eventually moved out of the house in Glenville into one in the upscale neighborhood of University Heights, but began spending most of his time in New York, where he and Shuster eventually relocated.)

In 1938, they sold their hero to DC Comics for $130, which took the rights to the character. Superman soon became one of the best-known characters in the world, but Siegel and Shuster received no royalties or benefits from their creation. Unable to support themselves with their comic, they took other jobs; by the 1970s, Siegel was working as a mail clerk. In 1975 a lawsuit they filed against DC Comics was settled in their favor, giving Siegel and Shuster both money—$20,000 a year each for the rest of their lives—and credit. Now the phrase “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” appears on all Superman-related products.

Image by Bettmann / Corbis. Jerry Siegel, left, and Joe Shuster met in high school and after the two came up with the idea of a comic book hero, Siegel took control of the venture and concocted a romantic origin story for Superman. (original image)

Image by Jim Bowers, CapedWonder.com. Where the Shuster house once stood is a fence with six poster-size reproduced plates of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. (original image)

Image by Jim Bowers, CapedWonder.com. A seventh poster at the former Shuster residence proclaims, "On this site once stood the home where Superman was turned from words into pictures... With the creation of Superman, these two friends showed the world that the most ordinary of us can turn out to be the most heroic." (original image)

Image by Jim Bowers, CapedWonder.com. The Glenville Community Development Corporation took charge of restoring Siegel's house. They repaired the roof, siding, landscaping and painted the house Superman blue and red. A plaque was also installed to honor Siegel. (original image)

Shortly after Siegel and Shuster died in the 1990s, a similar struggle for recognition of Superman’s creators took place in Cleveland. Michael Sangiacomo, a comic books critic and a reporter for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, called on the city to honor Siegel and Shuster. Nothing came of it. Every few years he would trot the idea out again, writing an article calling on Cleveland to honor the pair. “I pointed out that the Siegel house was here [the home of Joe Shuster had been torn down], and that is the home of Superman, and the city should do something.”

In his will, Siegel asked that half of his ashes be donated to the city of Cleveland; his widow also wanted to donate some of his belongings to the city, such as his typewriter. She visited Cleveland to find a home for them, and Sangiacomo escorted her around town. “Nobody wanted them,” he remembers. “It was a low point. I felt horrible for her and mad at the city.”

Meanwhile, the old Siegel house was falling into disrepair, as was Glenville. Kimberly Avenue, where Siegel lived, has few longtime residents—there were 11 abandoned houses on the boys’ block alone—but Hattie and Jefferson Gray, the couple who lives in Siegel’s old house, have owned it for decades.

Visiting comic book writers and fans often asked Sangiacomo for a tour of the Siegel home, and he would drive them by the place. Two years ago, he took best-selling thriller and comic book writer Brad Meltzer by the house, and the pair was invited inside. After seeing the condition of the interior, Sangiacomo says, “I realized we had to do something.”

Sangiacomo and Meltzer decided to raise money to restore the house. Melzer uploaded a video of himself at the house that went viral. He followed by sponsoring an auction of comics-related art, raising over $100,000 in the process. Sangiacomo and Meltzer formed the nonprofit Siegel and Shuster Society, and asked the Glenville Community Development Corporation to take charge of restoring the house, in partnership with the Grays.

According to Tracey Kirksey, executive director of the Glenville CDC, her group offered to buy the home from the Grays. But “they have lived there for over 20 years and were not interested in selling the family home to us.” Before the Glenville CDC proceeded with repairs, though, the Grays agreed to give the group first right of refusal should they decide to sell.

The Glenville group took charge, hiring contractors to repair a leaky roof, redo the siding, improve the landscaping, and paint the house Superman blue and red. A plaque was installed honoring Siegel. Written by Sangiacomo and Meltzer, the plaque says that Siegel “was a teenaged boy who lived here during the Great Depression.” “Jerry wasn’t popular,” it continues. “He was a dreamer, and he knew how to dream big.” The plaque ends with the aphorism, “[Siegel and Shuster] didn’t just give us the world’s first super hero.…They gave us something to believe in.”

Proud of the house’s historical importance, the Grays participated in the 2009 ceremony to unveil the plaque, which was affixed to a steel fence (for the Man of Steel) with a large red Superman shield at its center.

Where the Shuster house once stood, the Glenville group installed another fence with six poster-size reproduced plates of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. A seventh poster proclaims, “On this site once stood the home where Superman was turned from words into pictures.… With the creation of Superman, these two friends showed the world that the most ordinary of us can turn out to be the most heroic.”

The city finally took notice. Tracey Kirksey had been trying, like Sangiacomo, to have the city tear down abandoned houses, “but it never seemed to be a priority.” With the Siegel house restored, the city has now demolished seven houses on Kimberly Avenue, Kirksey says, and is now looking to “green-up the lots and replace those houses with new developments.”

The Siegel house is still owned by the Grays and not open to the public, but Sangiacomo hopes it may one day become a museum. “I’d love to turn it into a mecca for comic book lovers from across the world, into a place where people visiting the city could come and walk through it and see where Jerry created Superman, to turn it into something Cleveland could be proud of.”

Kirksey has more ideas, too, such as a permanent sign at the Cleveland airport, or a Superman statue. The best spot for such a statue? Perhaps downtown, underneath the place where the billboard of LeBron James once hung.

32c Superman Arrives single

National Postal Museum
32-cent mint single

Issued September 10, 1998

sound recording: More Than You Know; Superman

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. side 1: MORE THAN YOU KNOW; side 2: SUPERMAN (Columbia 55002)

78 rpm

Superman [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Johnson, Fridolf, "Rockwell Kent: An Anthology of his Works," New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982, pg. 125.

World's Finest Comics No. 5

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics issue No. 5 in the spring of 1942. Fred Ray illustrated the cover that depicts a movie theater with silhouetted heads viewing the projected image of Superman, Batman, and Robin saluting as three airplanes fly overhead. This issue’s stories feature Superman in "The Tower of Terror," Zatara in "The Man who Stole a Bank," The Crimson Avenger in "Murder in Three Acts," TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite in "The Case of the Crime Clown," Red, White and Blue in "Wings of America," The Sandman in "Gems of Jeopardy," The King in "Rubies for Ransom," Lando in "The Adventure of the Good-Hearted Gangster," and Batman and Robin in "Crime Takes A Holiday." Originally titled World’s Best Comics in its inaugural issue, DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics from 1941 until 1986. Each issue originally featured separate stories for Batman and Superman, but from issue 71 until issue 197 they appeared together in the same story. Over the years a cavalcade of DC heroes appeared in the book, including Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and the Vigilante.

World's Finest Comics No. 7

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics issue No. 7 in the fall of 1942. Jack Burnley illustrated the yellow cover that depicts Superman, Robin, and Batman each straddling the barrel of a battleship’s cannon. This issue’s stories feature Superman in "The Eight Doomed Men!," Zatara in "The Case of the Walking Dynamo!," Drafty in "Bring in Baby," The Sandman and Sandy in "A Modern Arabian Nightmare," The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy in "The Case of the Jinxed Skyscraper," Red, White and Blue in "The Phantom Voice," The Green Arrow in "Wings of Flame," Lando in "The Vanishing V-Men!," and Batman and Robin in "The North Pole Crimes!" Originally titled World’s Best Comics in its inaugural issue, DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics from 1941 until 1986. Each issue originally featured separate stories for Batman and Superman, but from issue 71 until issue 197 they appeared together in the same story. Over the years a cavalcade of DC heroes appeared in the book, including Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and the Vigilante.

World's Finest Comics No. 6

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics issue No. 6 in the summer of 1942. Fred Ray illustrated the red white and blue cover that depicts Superman with his arm around a sailor, and Robin shaking the hand of a soldier. World War II era comics frequently promoted supporting the war effort and contained stories of comic book heroes aiding American soldiers and defeating the Axis enemies. This issue’s stories featured Superman in "Man of Steel Versus Man of Metal," Zatara in "Mystery of the Cat's Eye Spell," Drafty in "The Adventure of the Hungry Lion," The Sandman in "The Adventure of the Magic Forest," The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy in "The Adventure of the King of Escape," Red, White and Blue in "The Case of the Little Fuehrer," Aquaman in "The Zoo of the Deep," Lando, Man of Magic in "The Black Gold Touch," and Batman and Robin in "The Secret of Bruce Wayne!" Originally titled World’s Best Comics in its inaugural issue, DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics from 1941 until 1986. Each issue originally featured separate stories for Batman and Superman, but from issue 71 until issue 197 they appeared together in the same story. Over the years a cavalcade of DC heroes appeared in the book, including Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and the Vigilante.

World's Finest Comics No.8

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics issue No.8 in the winter of 1942-1943. Jack Burnley illustrated the cover that depicts Superman, Robin, and Batman in a booth under the sign “Sink the Japanazis with Bonds Stamps” selling bonds to children. World War II era comics frequently promoted supporting the war effort and contained stories of comic book heroes aiding American soldiers and defeating the Axis enemies. This issue’s stories featured Superman in "Talent Unlimited," Drafty in "Tanks for the Memory!," Zatara in "The Magic Lantern," The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy in "Stripesy, Solo Sleuth Inc.!," The Boy Commandos in "The Luck of the Lepparts," The Green Arrow in "The Unluckiest Man In The World!," The King in "A Double For Trouble," and Batman and Robin in "Brothers In Law!" Originally titled World’s Best Comics in its inaugural issue, DC Comics published World’s Finest Comics from 1941 until 1986. Each issue originally featured separate stories for Batman and Superman, but from issue 71 until issue 197 they appeared together in the same story. Over the years a cavalcade of DC heroes appeared in the book, including Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Arrow, and the Vigilante.
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